Homeowners Complain of Rotten-Egg Smells
— and Worse. Other States Likely Involved Also
As if there hasn't been enough trouble recently for Florida
builders and homeowners, now there's more: Defective drywall
imported from China in the boom years of 2004, 2005, and 2006
has spawned a rash of homeowner odor complaints. Sulfur
compounds off-gassing from the drywall are blamed for
destructive corrosion in hundreds — and possibly tens
of thousands — of Florida homes. The damage includes
corrosion of copper wiring in walls and household appliances,
tarnishing of plumbing fixtures, and corrosion and failure of
air conditioner condenser coils, leading to air conditioner
freeze-ups and failures. And with some homeowners reporting
respiratory symptoms and other possible health effects, the
extent of liability could be catastrophic. At least one
builder, Lennar Homes, has begun moving homeowners into
temporary accommodations, while crews tear out and replace all
the offending drywall, along with the damaged wiring and
In January, Lennar filed a lawsuit against virtually the
company's entire drywall supply chain, including the Chinese
manufacturers, Florida shippers and distributors, and local
drywall subcontractors. According to Lennar's formal complaint,
the problem drywall was imported and sold by a Chinese
corporation called Knauf Plasterboard (Tianjin) Ltd, a
subsidiary of the German global building materials giant Knauf
Gips KG. Another Chinese company that is unrelated to Knauf,
Taishan Gypsum Co. Ltd., is also named in the suit. The
text of Lennar's complaint is posted at a website of NBC
affiliate WBBH. The court's website includes a
list of plaintiffs and defendants.
According to Jordan Chaikin, an attorney with the law firm of
Parker Waichman Alonso LLP
Florida seaport records indicate that enough of the bad drywall
came into the state to build tens of thousands of houses.
Chaikin represents Florida homeowners in a
action lawsuit filed in a Miami Federal court in February.
"We're waiting on records from earlier years," he says. "But
some of the numbers we have seen so far, from January 1st of
2006 onward, indicate that somewhere in the neighborhood of 550
million pounds of this drywall was imported and offloaded here
in the United States. More specifically, the port of Miami is
believed to have received most of this Chinese
drywall...something in the neighborhood of 113 million pounds
of Chinese drywall was delivered to the port of Miami."
Throughout Florida, Chaikin estimates, some 50,000 houses
could have been built with the Chinese drywall imported into
Florida ports in 2006 alone — and if the worst comes
to pass, all that drywall may have to be torn out and replaced.
"This seems to be one of the biggest problems that...homeowners
are facing in the history of the U.S.," says Chaikin.
Already, Lennar Homes has replaced the drywall in at least a
hundred houses, and the company indicates that it will continue
to tear out the material whenever they find it. But Lennar is
not the only builder affected, according to Jordan Chaikin.
Based on intake interviews with numerous Florida homeowners who
have signed up with his firm as plaintiffs in the Federal class
action, he says, "we have been able to identify 25 to 30
builders in Florida that have used this defective product in
the construction of homes for Florida homeowners."
But the builders are not Chaikin's target. "We have not sued
Lennar," he emphasizes. "They have their own lawsuit against
the manufacturers. We are not suing any builders at this point,
and really don't have any intention of bringing the builders
in." But Chaikin is asking builders to disclose whatever they
find out about the situation: "We want builders to work with us
in helping us to go after the Chinese manufacturers and other
Chaikin says that there is no indication that any
U.S.-manufactured drywall has any similar problems. "We haven't
seen any problems with any domestic drywall, whatsoever," he
said. "Who knows what's going to come to light as we come
forward. But so far, what we've seen is, a lot of it is the
Knauf product; and in other cases, some of the drywall that is
affected is not stamped with anything. So it's, at this point,
difficult to ascertain where it came from."
The press reports, the rising storm of publicity, and the
lawsuits raise a host of questions with no immediate answers.
What's wrong with the Chinese drywall, and why is it different
from American-made drywall? Why does the drywall off-gas, and
how do the release gases attack wiring and air conditioning
coils? How real are the health-related complaints, and what, if
any, is the danger to occupant health? How many houses are
affected? How can homeowners, builders, and the trades
distinguish the bad drywall from drywall that is safe? And when
drywall needs to be replaced, who is going to pay for it?
Coastal Connection will provide continuing coverage of the
Chinese drywall story in the weeks and months ahead.
The following are excerpts from a March 6, 2009, telephone
interview between Coastal Connection's Ted Cushman and Jordan
Chaikin, lead counsel in the class action suit brought by
Parker Waichman Alonso.
Who is being sued?
"We are not suing any builders. We are
asking the builders to cooperate with us in going after the
manufacturers of this defective
drywall."ListenHow can people detect the problem and identify the
"... primarily that rotten egg smell, and
secondly — and this is most important — is
the evaporator coils. People are having tremendous air
conditioning problems ... they say, 'We can't keep the house
cool and all the coils are turning black, and we've had to
replace the air conditioning three times.'
"ListenIs there financial harm other than repair
"In the state of Florida a prospective
seller must disclose to a prospective buyer all of the defects
and all of the remediation that has occurred with the home. And
certainly that would deter a prospective buyer from going in
and purchasing the home. So we are looking at a diminution of
value claim for
that."ListenHow much bad drywall is there?
Jordan Chaikin: "From January 1st of 2006 onwards ...
somewhere in the neighborhood of 550 million pounds of this
Chinese drywall was imported and offloaded here in the
ListenWhat makes this Chinese drywall so
Jordan Chaikin: "We believe several things. One of the
things that we understand is that the mines that they were
mining this gypsum from were very questionable. They were using
a lot of questionable materials as well, a lot of waste
product. We haven't really gotten into any discovery with them.
And once we get into that stage of this litigation, we will
learn a lot, lot more."
ListenHow did Parker Waichman get to be the attorney for
all Florida homeowners?
Jordan Chaikin: "So far there have been three class action
lawsuits filed in Federal court here in Florida. What the court
will end up doing is consolidating all of the actions into one
court somewhere. And ideally, that court will be here where we
filed our case. We believe that Southeast Florida is the
epicenter of this Chinese drywall issue."
ListenCan the defendants pay?
"We believe that they certainly can pay.
The parent company, Knauf, is the biggest manufacturer of
building materials and systems in the world. They're huge. We
don't think that's even going to be an issue. We believe that
there is going to be insurance money there, and that they can